Without further ado, here is "Red, Green, and Tinsel Blues"
Red, Green, and Tinsel Blues
Outside the fishing boat it was cold. What other description could be given that would make you feel that bone gripping sensation? It was a damp cold. Have you ever been cold and wet? Then that is the feeling a living body would have outside of the warm fishing boat.
Inside it was warm. Or at least warmer and less damp.
The fishing boat itself was an old recreational vessel that had been designed and built by Rachel Corse's father, Ben. Perhaps there was a spark of the clairvoyant in Ben Corse, because this boat had been built to last hard weather and be comparable to a small, one bedroom apartment. There was a small camping stove, a bar fridge, and a single bed with a pull out drawer that acted as a second bed.
Ben could have never known that he would die sitting at his desk. A stray blood clot killed him, and the only thing he wound up leaving his only daughter on her nineteenth birthday was this boat. A boat she now lived in.
Rachels parents had been divorced. Her mother had given full custody to Ben, and then had traipsed out of both of their lives forever, never being heard from again.
Rachel was not alone, however. Her father had given her a gift of shelter in his death, and a stray flirting with romance had left Rachel with a daughter, Jackie, now seven. The two shared the fishing boat, used the local YMCA to take showers, stretched every welfare dollar and empty pop can. Thanks to a legal loophole in the local bi-laws, they were able to moor in the Gorge waterways without having to pay anything.
Christmas was their season. It was the month where every point of the year touched, the focal point that was carried through the year.
Twelve days before Christmas Eve, Rachel started everything into motion. It began in the soup kitchen downtown.
“Why do we have to be here? We have food at home. I'm not hungry.” Jackie protested. She was standing on a chair turned backwards and pushed up to the oven. A stock pot half her size bubbled with what was jokingly referred to as “sink trappings”, that mess of food found in the strainer at the bottom of a sink full of dishes. Jackie stared at it past her little pug nose.
“We have to be here because through the year people give us the things we need to live on.” Rachel answered, her own attention focused on a flock of roasted chickens she was de-boning.
“What are you talking about? How many cans do we recycle? We pick those up, not other people.” Jackie took some chopped chicken from Rachel and tossed it in the pot, hopping up and down from the chair to do so. The other workers kept half an eye on her, but she deftly maneuvered without risking life or limb.
“We do that, yes. But we also use welfare and sometimes the food bank. Nothing wrong with a little hard work to make us appreciate what we have.” Jackie mimicked her mother in a sing song, which Rachel ignored. Done with the chickens she tidied up and started working on other areas of the kitchen while Jackie stirred.
They went home tired. Rachel heated up a can of soup on the camping stove and they ate, then fell asleep.
The next night Rachel planned something far more "fun". Standing across the street from Kafka's department store was Darth Violinist, a violin player who dressed like Darth Vader. And down the street from him stood Jackie and Rachel, singing carols. In front of them was a simple cardboard box with a sign that said “Charity is the lifeblood of the season.”
As each passing hour got colder Rachel warmed them both with a thermos of hot chocolate and a few pieces of Rachels' version of Ezekiel bread. A few times, as the box became full, Jackie asked Rachel what they were going to spend the money on. Rachel only answered, “You'll see.”
That evening, Rachel took the full box of coins and a few five dollar bills and carried it into Kafka's Department Store. They went towards the lottery booth, and Rachel stopped short. She turned to Jackie and said, “I want you to put all the change into that dog.” Jackie just stood there for a few moments not understanding. Rachel pointed at a large plastic dog off to one corner. It was a coin box for seeing eye dogs.
“But we worked hard for this. Can't we buy something for ourselves! The other kids at school have iPhones and cool clothes and we shop at thrift stores. Please?” There were tears in her eyes, but Rachel pointed at the dog and said, “There are blind people who need help more than you need an iPhone.”
Jackie placed the tip of the box against the coin slot and carefully poured all the money into the dog, and hated every sound of the coin dropping.
The days went on like this until Christmas Eve. There were days where they bought coats from thrift stores and gave them to people sleeping in the streets. They cared for sick people in hospitals and elderly care facilities, and other acts of charity.
Finally on Christmas Eve Jackie begged to know why they had to do all these things. She made examples of the other kids in school not having to do anything like what she had to do. They had to collect pop bottles and work in soup kitchens while other kids got to play video games endlessly. She made her case, comparing their lives to other peoples lives, and all the material differences in between. She complained about the lack of electronics, and perfumes and dresses. She made her life sound pitiful and bare when laid against the gold and silver tapestry of the lives of others.
Rachel listened attentively, asking questions occasionally, and listening mostly.
When Jackie had tired herself out Rachel made her lay down in her bed and talked to her about all the things they had done.
“Many people you meet in life will tell you about Christmas. They will complain endlessly about how they hate the songs and music, and make no new songs of their own. They will accuse everyone else of being greedy and materialistic, and line up for hours to save a few dollars for something they don't need. They will tell you all about how bad people really are inside, and then tell you how good they are. They will talk endlessly about how this is just another day of the year, and how it's all lies. They may as well be saying that down is up and right is wrong. The people who believe that Christmas is important for reminding people to do acts of charity and to truly appreciate each other will be told endless statistics about suicide rates.
“Then there will be those who say they have never felt the Christmas spirit, and when you ask them what they've done to participate in the holiday they'll tell you they went to a concert or went shopping, as though that's participation. They want the joy of the season without the effort.
“If you want to hate Christmas, that's okay. But I want you to love it for the right reasons, not because of something expensive you get. I want you to love it for what Dickens showed it to be, a time for charity. I want you to love it because you yourself understand what it means to be poor and that as bad as things were you were still able to help someone else. All of us are connected to each other in ways we can't know or understand fully. This is important. We are all in this together.” Rachel seemed to deflate in telling Jackie all of these things. “It's time for bed, honey. It's late. Tomorrow will be busy.” Jackie laid down in her bed and kept her eyes wide open. She wasn't going to sleep, not right away. She wanted to stew for a while.
“Mom. I love you. But I don't get you sometimes.”
“And you're to old for your own good. Love you, too.”
Morning came and Jackie rolled over. Beside her was a large gift wrapped box. She rolled back over, thinking how cruel dreams could be sometimes, like the one she had when she was younger and had that terrifying dream of being locked in a Igloo ice cooler. She rolled back over and looked again. The box was still there, still wrapped. She looked up towards where her mother slept and saw the her bed was empty.
Without waiting she began to open the box, ripping the paper in excitement. She opened the box and inside...
Well, inside didn't matter. She rushed from inside the fishing boat to the main deck to give her mother a hug.
The two sat together in the dawning light, cold but warm, and enjoyed what was important about the day.